Tuesday, November 18, 2008

S. America is Huge & other important lessons

This is my first post of criticism from a travel client. It is constructive criticism and it arrives on the first anniversary of Changes In Latitude (after 11 years touring Latin America solely with produce executives, friends & family). While I would like to claim that I have created universally stellar experiences for all my travel clients this year, there is a first time for everything. I was reminded of three valuable lessons from clients recently returned from Peru, Chile & Argentina.

1. S. America is Huge

I was not assertive enough to dissuade these world travelers from biting off more than they could chew in S. America. I cautioned when I should have insisted they reconsider their long list of desired destinations. It is natural, especially when we travel very far, to want to see as much as possible of the region we're visiting. On the surface, more appears better. But with travel, it is often true that "less is more". I am reminded that trying to see too much can diminish the overall quality of any travel experience. I will insist on small bites because distances are great enough to be daunting for even the most seasoned travelers.

2. Even triple references do not ensure satisfaction.

It has been a rare occasion when clients have wanted to visit someplace I haven't been in Latin America. On this recent S. America trip, however, the clients wanted to visit the Peruvian Amazon. Having never been there, I called an old friend in Lima about the best Amazon Lodge. He replied, "there are only three good ones; Tahuayo Lodge is the best". I did some research and learned the owner had published a book about the Amazon. In addition, this lodge was named "One of the ten best wilderness lodges in the world" by Outside Magazine ... and this was only one of a dozen such accolades. With such positives, client satisfaction was virtually guaranteed, right? Wrong. An Amazon wilderness lodge is not for everyone. I'll use a more formal client questionnaire to better match people with places from now on.

3. Guide books are like casino bets

These particular clients did something I have never tried, and we can all learn from this one. They relied on Frommer's advice in S America in determining some of their desired destinations and restuarants. They were not satisfied with the results. Guide book advice can never be "all things to all people". Changes In Latitude serves upscale travelers, not "all people" In this case, Frommer's advice disappointed my clients. Travelers, think about the nature of guide books - they are highly subjective. You'll win some and lose some.

I was lucky to have local produce growers show me and my travel companions around Latin America for more than a decade. My goal is to provide that type of guidance to my clients. Today I was reminded that this goal will be a journey in itself.

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